I sat in the middle of the ocean with a group of caregivers. We were far from any trouble or responsibility at home. While the physical distance was great and our surroundings serene, that first day felt odd, and not at all like any of us thought a cruise vacation should feel. It was reminiscent of my teenage years when my father would leave a decision (with an obviously responsible choice) up to me with the guilt-inducing words, “You do what you think its best.”
All of the caregivers on this cruise felt the emotional tug of responsibility coming from the shore. Faces were scrunched in worry; breaths were shallow and hesitant to release at any idea of true relaxation or fun. I could almost see the wheels turning in their heads, the thoughts of “what if” streaming back and forth like a banner of bad news.
Each caregiver had a different story. We had young caregivers caring for grandparents, long distant caregivers, a couple who lived in a four-generation household, a caregiver who recently lost her mother and wondered what comes next, only children who wished they had siblings to help, and caregivers who wished they were only children.
They were all so different, but their emotional journey was so much the same. The daily demands of caring for a loved one had shaped their lives in ways they never imagined. The guilt of not doing enough, the fatigue of doing it all, the stress of making ends meet and schedules work, the isolation of being a family caregiver. It had all taken its toll.
Back on shore, lunch breaks were no longer reserved for a bite to eat with coworkers or a quick trip to the mall. Instead, lunch consisted of calls with the insurance company, trips to the pharmacy, doctor appointments, and yet another call assuring Mom you’d be home by 5:30.
The last vacation many of these caregivers remembered date back to the Reagan administration, but they would tell you a trip to the grocery store alone was almost as good.
Conversations over dinner on the ship allowed caregivers to realize how similar their stories were, that they really weren’t all alone. Excursions with dolphins, zip lines, sugar cane and rum infused their souls with a much deserved sense of liveliness. Spa treatments melted away the stress and finally let the caregivers receive some needed care themselves. And they could eat lunch with a friend without any outside demands.
Smiles began to appear, shoulders began to relax, and spirits began to soar.
When we finally said our goodbyes, there was so much hope in their voices and hugs. They looked like a new group of people. They were brighter, lighter, and even somehow seemed a little taller. I reminded them to schedule their next vacation before a new president takes the oath of office, and that if picking out fruits and vegetables starts to feel like a vacation, they should immediately call a travel agent or at the very least, book a massage.
For more information on the Caregiver Cruise, visit http://cruise.caregiverstress.com.
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